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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Brief Meditations on A Pair of Fine I's (for "Ironies")

During the past month, I have had some fascinating exchanges offlist with a variety of very bright Janeites in regard to my post.....

.... about Jane Austen's virtuosic wordplay around the word "unconscious" in regard to Lizzy's thoughts and feelings vis a vis Darcy of course in P&P.

And, not surprisingly in discussions regarding Jane Austen, but particularly on a slippery topic like this, it seems like irony just sorta naturally pops up!

So, tonight, I leave you with my brief meditations on a _pair_ of fine i's (for "ironies") that I have observed during my exchanges about the above topic:

The first fine irony is that there are many Janeites of long standing who think that it's obvious from the plain meaning of the text that Lizzy is _not_ unconsciously attracted to Darcy, yet...there are many _other_ Janeites also of long standing who think that it's obvious from reading against the grain, as they believe the text begs for, that Lizzy _is_ unconsciously attracted to Darcy!

Whereas I am like Tevya in the great opening number of Fiddler on the Roof, "Tradition", in which he agrees with two neighbors who dispute the identity of an animal in a sale transaction, and then we hear:

Avram: He's right, and he's right? They can't both be right.

Tevye: You are also right.

Avram is not correct in the dispute about P&P, because in the case of a Jane Austen novel, they _can_ both be right, because JA deliberately wrote the text of each of her novels to be ambiguous in a variety of important ways, such that _two_ entirely plausible alternative interpretations would be supported by insightful readings of the same novel text.

So that's Fine Irony #1.

The _second_ fine irony I have found is related, although it is not limited to the above dispute about P&P, but also applies, I find, a thousand times over, during every imaginable sort of Austen-related discussion. To wit: I have so often seen Janeites who would argue to the death that Jane Austen did _not_ covertly depict Freudian-style unconscious motivations and attractions in her novels, and yet, once
they are grudgingly convinced to accept an against-the-grain interpretation, their fallback position seems to be that Jane Austen _must_ have done it _UN_consciously! So they're Freudians about Jane Austen's creative process, while simultaneously denying Jane Austen the creativity and insight to have _consciously_ depicted Freudian-style _UN_conscious feelings in her characters.

And that is Fine Irony #2.

So there's my pair of fine ironies, and I for one also find it ironic that I derive pleasure from meditating on them. ;)

Cheers, ARNIE

1 comment:

Arnie Perlstein said...

[Christy Somer replied in Janeites] "My goodness, Arnie, I truly wish such an effusion of thought wasn’t as charming as it seems to be from my reading it -considering our differences, and all that! Perhaps, its just the holiday spirit...~~~:-)"

I replied thusly:

Christy, despite that Austenian "seems to be", there still remains just enough of a compliment in there, that it appears I ought to thank you for it! ;)

...It just occurred to me to do what I don't recalling doing
previously--to search for the word "irony" or its variants in the text of JA's novels-- and now we can add another fine irony, because she _never_ used the word "irony" even once in her published novels, despite their being packed from end to end with implicit ironies!

There is however one passage where I _wonder_ whether JA was teasing
around the edges of the word "irony"--while I am pretty sure you won't buy it, Christy, I find it intriguing--so I give you the "Grinch" aka John Thorpe, dissing James Austen's gig:

“Break down! Oh! Lord! Did you ever see such a little tittuppy thing in your life? There is not a sound piece of _iron_ about it. The wheels have been fairly worn out these ten years at least — and as for the body! Upon my soul, you might shake it to pieces yourself with a touch. It is the most devilish little rickety business I ever beheld! Thank God! we have
got a better. I would not be bound to go two miles in it for fifty
thousand pounds.”

I'd suggest that there _is_ a "sound" piece of _irony_ about this
description of James's gig, first in that the word "iron" does actually _sound_ a great deal like the word "irony"! And second, in addition to what I wrote about that passage in NA a long while ago...

...I also would suggest that there is irony in John Thorpe's sexual
innuendo about the firmness, freshness, and solidity of James Morland's "gig", which someone could "shake" "to pieces" "with a touch".